During the development of the nervous system, numerous neurons connect to form complex networks. In order to build a functional network each neuron has to establish contacts with appropriate target cells, and at these contacts synapses of the right quality and strength have to be formed. Gaining insight into the mechanisms underlying this complex development is an important step towards a better understanding of how the nervous system is formed and behaviour generated. One model system in which synapse formation can be studied at the morphological, physiological and molecular level is that of the fruitfly Drosophila, and insights gained from Drosophila embryos are reviewed here. The first part of this review deals with the neuromuscular junction as the best-known synaptic contact in Drosophila. It describes: (1) its structure, (2) mechanisms underlying the formation of the neuromuscular cell junction and the arborisation of the presynaptic terminal, and (3) our present understanding of signal-dependent and -independent processes during synapse formation at the neuromuscular junction. The last part of this review deals with the question of how particular neurons can adopt specific synaptic properties, stating as an example the development of the neural lineage of NB7-3, which gives rise to two serotonergic neurons.